Perceptual Links: Attention, Experience, and Demonstrative Thought

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Perception is conscious: perceiving involves a first-person experience of what’s perceived. It’s widely held that these perceptual experiences are independent of what's perceived. Viewing two visually indiscriminable #2 pencils would involve the same experience, despite viewing different objects. It’s also widely held that conscious perception enables thinking about what's perceiving. When you see one of those pencils you can think, THAT is a pencil. Some philosophers, including John McDowell and John Campbell, have suggested that these two features engender a puzzle: how can perceptual experiences make perceived objects available for thought when they’re independent of those objects? This dissertation is a collection of four papers which address this question.

The first (chapter 2) argues that, under two minimal assumptions, conscious perception makes objects available for thought only if experience is not object independent. The second (chapter 3) argues that conscious perception makes objects available for thought by enabling voluntarily attention to them. The third (chapter 4) integrates empirical work on multiple-object tracking and philosophical work on attention to argue that conscious perception isn’t mediated by the construction of representations within the visual system. The fourth (chapter 5) uses philosophical methods and neurophysiology to give an account of the role of experience itself in how perception makes objects available for thought. A concluding chapter combines and extends results from the previous chapters to give a naive realist (vs representationalist) account of perceptual experience.

The questions about perceptual experience addressed in this dissertation (object dependent or independent? naive realist or representationalist?) are fundamental to our understanding of experience. Not only do they get at its basic nature, but their answers constrain how we might give scientifically respectable, or naturalistic, explanations of experience as well as how we might explain perceptual hallucinations and illusions.

Doctor of Philosophy
perceptual experience, demonstrative thought, naive realism, attention

Barkasi, Michael. "Perceptual Links: Attention, Experience, and Demonstrative Thought." (2015) Diss., Rice University.

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